Paperwhites are pretty and popular plants that grow from bulbs. For indoor planting, they are grown in pots or vases, and they are most popular around the holidays. This is the time of year we see bulbs and paperwhite planting kits pop up in stores.
Paperwhites get their name from their petite, white blooms, which are popular as both Christmas gifts and Christmas and holiday decorations. Paperwhites are related to daffodils, so you may also see them called narcissus, narcissus paperwhites (or paperwhite narcissus), or even paperwhite daffodils.
If you want to have paperwhites in bloom for Christmas Day and the weeks and holidays surrounding it, here’s how. It's all about timing, but there are a few other things you can do to hedge your bets that you’ll have your paperwhites in flower for Christmas!
- When to Plant Paperwhites for Christmas Blossoms
- Paperwhite Planting Kits:
- How Long Do Paperwhites Stay in Bloom?
- How to Plant Paperwhites
- Video: How to Plant Paperwhites and When to Plant for Christmas Blossoms
- When to Water Paperwhites
- A few final watering tips for paperwhites:
- Plant Several Pots for A More Reliable Christmas Bloom
- Plant Paperwhites in Succession for Weeks of Holiday Flowers
- Care and Planting Tips for Paperwhites
- More tips, Decorating, and Planting Ideas for Narcissus (aka Paperwhites)
- Stunting the Growth of Paperwhites for Shorter, More Compact Plants
- Paperwhites and Amaryllis are the Perfect Partners
- Paperwhites—The Perfect Holiday Plant for Decorating or Gifting
When to Plant Paperwhites for Christmas Blossoms
To have paperwhites in bloom for Christmas, plant them four to six weeks ahead of time.
For Christmas blooms, the recommended planting time is right around the last week of November (if you’re in the U.S., this is just after Americans’ Thanksgiving holiday).
- You have a good chance of having paperwhites in bloom even if you plant as late as the end of the first week of December. Maybe even the second!
- Cornell University says that they can be in bloom in as little as two weeks
- Paperwhites will usually be blooming and opening in four weeks
- They may take up to six weeks to open, depending on the conditions in your home
Paperwhite Planting Kits:
- ✅ PETITE PERFUMED PETALS: Paperwhite bulbs produce adorable little white flowers with lovely...
- ✅ PRE-POTTED & READY TO GROW: Our Paperwhite kit arrives ready to grow and bloom! Simply unpack...
- Growing kit includes pot, potting mix and 5 "Ziva" paperwhite bulbs
- These kits come with a clay-colored decorative pot with saucer and growing medium
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- This is a wonderful gift for your Gardening Friends and Family! Plan ahead, they will want to get it...
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How Long Do Paperwhites Stay in Bloom?
Once the flowers open, paperwhites should stay in bloom for two weeks.
The flowers will last longer if the plants are well maintained and watered regularly, as directed (see below). Some other tips to keep paperwhite flowers looking their best for the longest possible amount of time are these:
- When flowers open, move the plant out of direct sunlight
- Bright, indirect light is best when paperwhites are in bloom
- The only time when direct sunlight is beneficial is during the growing stage when the bulbs sprout and start growing green stems and leaves
How to Plant Paperwhites
Paperwhites are easy to plant, and it only takes a few minutes to plant them. They do not really need to be planted in soil—they can be grown in vases and trays, suspended over water so that only roots are in the water (see the bulleted tips below for more).
The most popular way to plant paperwhite narcissuses is to plant them in light potting soil or soilless potting medium, such as coco coir. This is often what is provided in paperwhite bulb planting kits.
To plant paperwhites:
- Prepare your soil or planting medium
- It’s best to presoak the medium
- The planting medium should be moist but not soggy
- Put about two inches of soil in the bottom of the pot
- Place the bulbs on top of the soil or medium
- Place bulbs close together; they can touch or be nearly touching
- Lightly fill and pack more soil or medium around the bulbs
- Water the medium so it is thoroughly wetted
- If needed, apply more soil or planting medium
- Do not bury the whole bulb when you plant narcissus or paperwhites
- Leave about one-third of the bulb above the surface of the soil (or planting medium)
Video: How to Plant Paperwhites and When to Plant for Christmas Blossoms
When to Water Paperwhites
Paperwhite bulbs will become diseased and will rot if they are kept too wet. The goal is moist conditions, never soggy. Even bulbs planted in water planters without soil should only ever have water touching the roots, not the bulbs themselves.
For paperwhites that are potted or planted in soil or growing medium:
- Water about once a week or when the soil or planting medium begins to dry out
- Water when the top inch of soil is dry
- When the plants have significant green growth, they may require watering more often but should still only be watered when the top inch of soil is dry
- Be sure your pots have drainage holes and the pot is set into a saucer to catch extra water
- After watering, wait 20 minutes and then dump out any water that is sitting in the bottom of the tray (so the medium does not soak up too much moisture and become waterlogged or soggy
Growing in stones or marbles with water (soilless planting):
(Follow these instructions for bulbs planted in water-based forcing vases, too.)
- Water regularly to keep the level of water just below the roots in the stones
- Only add enough water to bring the level up to where it should be
- It’s better to water from the side of the container
A few final watering tips for paperwhites:
- Avoid pouring water on the exposed part of the bulb when you water your paperwhites
- The roots need the water, not the bulb
- Bulbs will rot if they sit in standing water
- If planting in stone or closed vessels, be sure that the bulb sits above any standing water and just the roots can reach down to find moisture
- Paperwhite soil should be kept slightly moist but not wet
Plant Several Pots for A More Reliable Christmas Bloom
To be sure you have paperwhites blooming for Christmas day, it’s best to plant more than one container of bulbs. That way, if some bulbs are slower to start and grow than others, you’ll be able to choose the fastest blooming pots for your Christmas day displays.
The plants may all grow and bloom at the same time, and this is fine—you can’t really lose. You’ll either have lots of pots of paperwhites in bloom or you’ll have plants in bloom for an extended period of time. If some are behind, you can put them away and bring them out once their flowers open.
Plant Paperwhites in Succession for Weeks of Holiday Flowers
Planting paperwhites in succession does two things:
It increases the odds that your plants will be in flower on the day or days that you want them blooming (for example, for Christmas Day or the weeks surrounding Christmas).
It also gives you a steady supply of plants in flower. That way, your flowering display will last for several weeks—you just have to switch out the plants that are in bloom when others fade.
For the most reliable and longest displays, plant paperwhites every week for three or four weeks (or more if you like!). Each plant should stay blooming for two weeks, giving you plenty of fresh flowers that overlap so you never have to hang on to fading, inferior flowers.
Care and Planting Tips for Paperwhites
- Paperwhites don’t need light until green growth appears
- They root best if they are in a cooler space until the roots grow
- If you can’t see the bottom of the bulb (for example, if potted), you can tell if the bulb has rooted if you tug gently up on the top—if there is resistance, there are roots
- To speed up green plant growth, you can put your paperwhite pots in a warm or sunny window after they are rooted and green growth starts in earnest
- This can get them to bloom faster, but you don’t want your paperwhites to be kept too warm, or they will grow leggy and weak
- Once blooming, the plants should be moved out of the sun to preserve the flowers at their best
- Most of the time, keep paperwhites in a spot with bright, indirect sunlight
- Turn pots daily to avoid leaning stems
- If stems start to tip over, you can stake them or tie several stems together so they support each other
- You can also plant paperwhites in deep containers or vases, and the sides will support the stems
- Paperwhites like warm room temperature air, preferably above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Celsius) and in a range of 65-72 degrees (18 to 22 C)
More tips, Decorating, and Planting Ideas for Narcissus (aka Paperwhites)
- Plant more than one bulb of paperwhites together in a pot for a fuller effect
- Planting several bulbs together also helps ensure you will have at least some of the pot in bloom for Christmas (or whatever holiday or timing you are aiming for)
- Three to eight bulbs are recommended per pot (depending on the size of the pot)
- The bulbs can be packed quite tightly, basically touching or nearly touching each other
- Plan for about one to one and a half inches of pot diameter per bulb
- For example, if you have four blubs, use a four or five-inch diameter pot
- Paperwhites don’t need soil to grow, just water, so a soilless medium is perfectly fine for planting
- Coco coir is a good planting medium for narcissuses (paperwhites)
- Coco coir is often what comes in paperwhite planting kits—it's light and cheap and good at holding moisture, and is very easy to use!
- You can even grow paperwhites in a tray with glass bulbs or marbles! It needs to be four inches deep, and the bulbs will need to be able to stand up, so they need to be supported with gravel or glass or something similar.
- For a rustic look, try planting paperwhites in jars with pebbles or aquarium stones
Stunting the Growth of Paperwhites for Shorter, More Compact Plants
Paperwhites usually grow between 12 and 18 inches tall, but that can be enough for them to flop over. If you want stockier plants that may not need support or staking, you can stunt their growth by mixing alcohol in the water:
- Water with pure water for the first week until you see good root growth and have between one and two inches of top growth (green sprouting)
- After that, make a mixture of water and alcohol every time you water, and water the plant as directed (for normal watering) with the alcohol and water mixture.
- You can use drinking alcohol such as vodka
- Mix it at a ratio of one part vodka to seven parts water
Paperwhites and Amaryllis are the Perfect Partners
Paperwhites and Amaryllises are almost synonymous. Many people think of them together, and they do, in fact, make the perfect Christmas, New Year’s, and holiday flowers.
We often find paperwhite and amaryllis kits (or bulbs) sold together because they're thought of as one and the same.
Amaryllis come in several colors, but shades of red—perfect for the holiday season—are the norm. Paperwhites are snowy white—another seasonal color—and offset the bold reds of the amaryllis nicely.
You can plant paperwhites and amaryllises together for a mixed planting that will really shine. Or you can plant them in separate pots and then place the pots together with some greens, ornaments, tinsel, or other holiday decorations.
- Use a wider pot and plant one amaryllis in the center as a focal point, then plant paperwhite bulbs around the amaryllis to create more interest and work as a sort of border and filler for your amaryllis pot
- You may prefer to plant the bulbs in separate pots and then create arrangements with the pots
- The advantage of this is that you can choose the pots with similar bloom times, so you get the full effect of the mixed planting in full bloom
- Though the two have similar growing times and similar lengths of days in bloom, amaryllis often takes two weeks longer to bloom than paperwhites do, so separate plantings with different start times may work better for you
Paperwhites—The Perfect Holiday Plant for Decorating or Gifting
Paperwhites are lovely plants to work with in Christmas and holiday décor. They are also lovely plants to give as gifts.
You can start paperwhites ahead of time to have them in bloom or ready to bloom and give them as gifts for the holidays, or you can give planting kits or make a gift basket with bulbs, planting supplies, and pretty pots or vases.
Paperwhites in bloom also make excellent host and hostess gifts for those who are having you for holiday parties, dinners, and get-togethers. These affordable little flowers can easily become impressive gifts. Or...plant them to liven your own home for the holidays!